The U.S. is locking up more illegal immigrants than ever, generating lucrative profits for the largest prison companies, the Associated Press reports. The cost to taxpayers is on track to top $2 billion this year, and the companies are expecting their biggest cut of that yet in the next few years with government plans for new facilities to house the 400,000 immigrants detained annually. The industry is growing despite a dramatic drop in illegal immigration in recent years.
In 2011, nearly half the beds in the nation's civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight, up from just 10 percent a decade ago. The Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp. have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found. CCA and GEO, who manage most of the nation's 250 private detention centers, insist they aren't trying to influence immigration policy to make more money. The average nightly cost to taxpayers to detain an illegal immigrant, including health care and guards' salaries, is about $166. That's up from $80 in 2004.